Sunday, December 30, 2007

Proustian Peanut Butter Bars

This week, I had occasion to visit with a number of old friends that I've known for most of my life.

The people in this circle of friends have gone their separate ways, moved away, married, come back again, stayed away - a whole range of experiences.

During one visit this week, a friend made the same chocolate-frosted peanut butter bars many of us enjoyed as kids during our sugar-fueled high school days.

Some of us recall eating them as our sole lunch entree, since they were a staple at our school's cafeteria.

Like Proust's madeleines, these peanut butter bars coupled with the sounds of these friends' voices transported me back to that simpler time.

I closed my eyes and heard the same din from the cafeteria, a setting where many of our friendships took shape, grew stronger, and had some impact on who we all are today.

Who knew that a simple dessert could have such powers?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Stacy London: Shut Up!

As a long-time viewer of TLC's What Not to Wear, I had high hopes for Stacy London's new show, Fashionably Late.

Despite having some pretty solid fashion experience, and a great eye, for her talk show Ms. London seems to have adopted an over-the-top persona that is ridiculous at best.

I knew that this was just not destined to be one of my favorites during tonight's episode, where she paws the black shirt of Take-Home Chef Curtis Stone with powdered-sugar hands during a dessert-making segment, gets him to adjust her apron, and makes weird double-entendres about a defenseless vanilla bean.

Stacy should just take a fashion maven's approach, make people over as they walk down the street, get commentary on daily fashion from New Yorkers passing by, interview up-and-coming designers (without fawning all over them making ham-handed references to freebies that the fashion gliterati enjoy).

That would be far more interesting than watching her trying desperately to entertain.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls

Only about one-third of the way through the book, Scrappy Project Management, and already I can say that I recommend this book if you have to:
  • lead a team
  • work on a team, or
  • rely on people across your organization for your projects to reach the finish line successfully.
Although I take issue with the author's assertion that if you really, really, really need your job, you should never lead a project because by virtue of taking this position, you're constantly sticking your neck out and you run the risk of being fired. In fact, one of her Scrappy Tips includes this sobering advice nugget:

"Be prepared to be respected but not necessarily liked, and keep your resume up to date!"
- Kimberly Wiefling, Scrappy Project Management

In any case, this book is a great reminder of the pitfalls of project management and how to keep things from veering off track.

One of her most valuable suggestions is to create an org chart for the project team, illustrating how people relate to each other and noting (briefly) what their responsibilities are in the context of the project.

Wiefling notes that the org chart for the project is likely to have absolutely nothing to do with your organization's actual formal org chart. This is the chart that serves as a roadmap to getting things done.

(You know how it is; there are some slots in an org chart where you can't possibly figure out what that person does, even if you've sat in countless meetings with them.)

The tips are fairly practical, and although the author is a consultant, her insights are completely applicable when managing projects in-house.

Never thought reading a book on project management could be entertaining, but this one is.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pass the Tums

Feels like it's been ages since I've felt hungry, that's how much food we've been eating the past couple of days.

I know that No One Cares What You Had For Lunch, but I've just been cataloging a sampling:

  • Mushroom turnovers

  • Feta cheese puffs

  • Stuffed mushrooms

  • Many kinds of dip involving cheese

  • Turkey

  • Ham

  • Cranberry-sage stuffing

  • Pierogies (potato)

  • Piroshki

  • Spinach salad with apples, bacon and cheese

  • Green beans with spaetzle

  • Chocolate chip-hazelnut-toffee cookies

  • Swedish spritz

  • Secret-surprise cookies (so 70s!)

  • Martha Stewart jewels (aka Jam Thumbprints)

  • My sister's ridiculously good almond macaroons

  • Hershey kisses (plain, almond, and candy cane)

  • M&Ms

  • Lemon bomb cake

  • World's Largest Yule Log (it was practically the size of an adult leg)

  • Bacon

  • Eggs

  • Wheat toast with peach jam

  • Approximately 4 Tums in 48 hrs
We are big fans of Mutts Comics in this house, and today's cartoon perfectly illustrated how we felt even after sleeping (and not eating) for 8 hours.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Be It Ever So Humble,
There's No Food Like Piroshki

In my family, Christmas Eve is a bigger celebration than Christmas day, because we always had the traditional wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve dinner.

While I was growing up, my grandmother, Babci, pulled out all the stops for wigilia (we always pronounced it veh-lee'-uh). She made homemade sauerkraut soup, pierogis, piroshki, and several kinds of seafood (always including Lobster tail).

The meatless meal was one of maybe two times a year that I recall eating from "the good china," and we drank from crystal water glasses that Babci had brought with her on the plane back from a visit to her homeland in the 70s.

But the best part of the wigilia meal, to me, are the piroshki.

Today my mother, who is Irish through and through, makes the wigilia. Babci taught her the recipe for the piroshki we've enjoyed my whole life. The two-inch, diamond-shaped dumplings are made with farmer's cheese mixed into the dough.

After making the dough, taking care not to overwork the flour, the dumplings are boiled so they hold their shape. But it's the finishing touch - when you go to re-heat them to serve - that the magic happens: they're cooked in melted butter and onions until they get a delicious golden-brown crust.

I knew my husband was a keeper when he came to his first wigilia, dug in, and then asked for more piroshki. Despite all the other fancy foods we have on the table, the humble piroski are my favorites, too.

May you and your family enjoy your Christmas celebrations, embracing the traditions - or making new ones - that infuse this holiday with personal meaning.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Pink and Green Zebra-Striped Coat

While shopping on Thursday, gathering up the last of the Christmas items, I saw it: The pink and green zebra-striped coat, in all its glory, in the children's department of a large department store.

It was spectacular. And spectacularly priced at $125. But that includes the hat (the blobby item pictured in the left side of the photo

This time, I took a picture with my cell phone. (Hence the blurry image and overall greenish fluorescent-lit cast.)

But it helps paint a better picture of the moment I wrote about earlier this week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Give the Gift of Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri captured my heart this summer with her writing.

During sweltering commutes into the city, while waiting for the train in the hot sun, I clung to every word of The Namesake (still haven't seen the movie) followed closely by Interpreter of Maladies.

She's a writer whose every word contributes to the formation of a character, the person's life, and their feelings.

For me, on my train rides, she created a window into their worlds that I could stare through for hours. A window that I reluctantly shut each time my stop was announced.

If you're looking for a last-minute gift, pick up one of her books and take it home for someone. You just might find that you'll keep it as a gift to yourself.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let's Get Organized, People!

Back in high school, I had a social studies teacher known for her, I don't know what to call them - I guess her epithets. No, they were more like catchphrases. Or rallying cries.

"Let's get organized, people!" was one of her favorites. She usually did this when the din rose to a level where you could barely hear what she was saying.

[Mark, my lifelong bud who is in town from San Francisco will know exactly who I'm talking about here!]

It had nothing to do with organization, but everything to do with imposing order.

My workspace is an atrocious mess at the moment. Between the holiday preparations. And the gifts I've been making. Oh, and the Etsy-ing.

So I'm in dire need of order right now. It's a matter of too much inflow, and not enough outflow.

Amidst all the creating of jewelry, I've been shopping and gathering materials during all the end-of-year sales at my favorite suppliers. There's just too much stuff. (My husband is nodding his head in agreement: hi, honey!)

But there's a method to the madness. Sometimes it takes seeing one item next to another that you'd never consider together . . . to really know that it will make a smashing series of necklaces.

Hiding it away in boxes makes it impossible to make those connections.

The photo above shows the latest group of colors I'm obsessed with. I'll let you know when I've come up with something.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Looks Like My Mom

After a final day of Christmas shopping that left me exhausted and weary, I ventured to the Wegman's for dinner provisions.

In the produce section, I was searching for romaine that looked good, when I caught sight of a woman's handbag in her cart from across the aisle.

"Huh, that lady has the same bag as my Mom," I thought to myself, since my Mom's tote is pretty distinct.

And then, "Hm, that lady has a jacket like my Mom, too . . . Hey! That lady's my Mom!"

I sidled my cart up beside hers and said "Hey, lady."

She looked up and was thrilled to see me.

We spent the next 15 minutes gabbing, and not making any headway in our lists.

I told her how I spotted her, and she laughed really hard - her eyes lit up at the serendipity of it all.

I like my Mom.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shopping Scenes: Like Mother, Like Daughter

While pushing a shopping cart into the Target parking lot yesterday morning, a mother and daughter dashed past me toward the store.

The Mom, in her knee-length black-and-white nubby tweed coat with dramatically oversized lapels, and daughter, about six, sported an A-line pink and lime zebra-striped faux-fur number - and both looked smashing.

Braced against the whipping winds and bitter cold, they held hands as they galloped through the parking lot, grinning ear-to-ear.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Shopping Tips

When it comes to last-minute Christmas shopping, it's all in the planning. And after many years of last-minute dashes, and finishing shopping by December 10, I've got a few tried-and-true tips that work for me:

1. Make a list. The most basic things can trip us up when we're under stress and not thinking clearly. And with Christmas shopping, there's a preponderance of bright, shiny objects to divert our attention. Put at least a few minutes' thought into it ahead of time so you don't lose focus. (Or risk forgetting your Great-Aunt Mildred.)

2. Go where no man has gone before. Or at least go when they're not thinking about it. Shopping on the way into work when stores have extended store hours can be helpful. But here's my secret: shop Sunday mornings around 10 a.m. Even on the Sunday before Christmas, I've found this to be the magic hour - stores open, nobody around.

3. Plot your course. Think proximity; try shopping where the items you need are close to one another. Otherwise, you maybe running from one end of the mall to the other, or circling the same neighborhood, wasting precious time. When time is of the essence, who wants to bother with back-tracking?

4. Wear comfortable shoes. I swear by running shoes. Whether you're pounding the pavement in a city or zipping through a mall, you're likely to be standing in lines at some point and your feet will take the brunt of the punishment. Tired feet mean an ineffective shopper.

5. Hoard a couple of extras. Think broad appeal: gift cards for Starbucks, Best Buy, Nordstrom, you name it. These days, you can choose from the entire flock at a grocery store! Having a couple of cards on hand can come in handy for those surprise gift-giving sessions.

6. Smile, smile, smile. At some point, all this shopping can be a pain. I'll grant you that. There's the tension of having to buy more with less. Or finding just the right hip Secret Santa gift for $25. Or you've got a cold and you're sneezing more than you're shopping. But it's Christmastime, dammit! Try to make the best of it and enjoy yourself. A smile goes a long way, too, with a busy clerk or a grumpy line-neighbor.

7. Think outside the (big) box. What could be more impressive than a one-of-a-kind item for your brother's new girlfriend? Go to sites like Etsy and see what they have in store.

8. Give til it hurts. There's always a person on your list for whom a gift seems . . . well, silly. They've got everything they want. Or they give everything away. But a donation might be just the right fit. There are a million wonderful charities worthy of your attention. Think Oxfam, Project HOME, or the American Red Cross.

9. Hydrate. The heat's on full blast. There are people all over the place. You're working up a sweat finding the right Christmas angel for your tree. Bring a little H20 with you to avoid keeling over.

10. Pack the Purell. This is the germophobe in me speaking, but think about it: you've got kajillions of people stuffed inside of stores, pawing over the merchandise, using the same pen over and over and over to sign the credit card slips. Sanitize early and often, and you just might ring in the New Year feeling healthy, wealthy and wise.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Project Runway Episode 5: Wait, Don't Go!

Everyone agrees: It's far easier to dress a stick-figure model than one who is close to normal weight. And any time Project Runway trots out the non-model models, it's going to be interesting.

Usually, it's heightened by the inclusion of the designers' relatives; doing double-duty as a heartstring-puller.

Here, in a nod to real-women's bodies, Project Runway brought in as models real women who had lost significant amounts of weight. Some of these women lost more than the equivalent to a whole person! One now-petite woman had lost 160 lb!

While the clothing design drama had one spectacular failure in Steven, overall it was ho-hum. Recasting the clothing from the women's favorite outfits at their heaviest was an interesting take on the challenge.


Allowing the designers to go to Mood and buy fabric that amounted to all they needed to construct a new garment was totally not in the spirit of the challenge. Jillian, Steven, I'm looking at you two!

The tension built at the start of the episode when Jack's health issue became the focus and sadly, he decided to quit the show to seek medical treatment rather than risk his health. For surviving 17 years with HIV, I have to give him credit for putting what's important - his life - ahead of a reality show. I wish him well.

Chris's Second Act

To keep up the level of challenge, that meant the return . . . of Chris! I'd sensed he was a positive, funny presence on the show - and this was confirmed in the earlier opening getting-ready-for-the-day segments when Sweet P declared her sadness over his departure and comic spirit.

But Chris had to take on Jack's model and her clothing, and so he was already behind and had to work all night to get his outfit completed. Awakening when everyone else traipsed in the next morning, Chris looked a little worse for wear but at least his garment was complete. The sash was an awful, coral-lipstick red, and matched the kick-pleat at the back of the skirt. Michael Kors and his French hooker circa-1950 comment was nearly right - really, she needed fishnets and a kooky hat or beret to complete the kitschy look.

That Chris squeaked by with his dignity (barely) intact made me jump for joy. The top he made was fitted and worked for the model quite nicely. Ditch the sash and the kick-pleat lining and she'd be good to go.

They Did it Their Way

Steven had the most challenging "favorite outfit" to start with; a bright-white wedding dress, made of flammable polyester, yards of lace and sequins, sequins, sequins.

But he would have none of it, save for a bit of the white for some Audrey Hepburn collar and cuffs that looked more like a matronly maid's outfit than an dress designed to make a newly svelte woman feel sexy.

And that's the same issue I took with Jillian, ignoring the old outfit and using other materials to create the look. Cuing off of her model's red shirt, she purchased similar red fabric and created a dress, using only a thin strip of black from the old outfit to make piping down the front of the dress. Grr.

Why didn't the judges call them on this? The challenge was to use the clothing as the fabric, and fill in the gaps for notions and trim from Mood.

Others didn't do much with the old clothes; I also had a problem with Christian's merely taking in the jeans and hacking them down to capris. But the top really did look great and his model seemed pleased.

Runway Rehash

That Ricky made it through to the next round - despite the flowing waterworks, and donning gold heels to test-drive his garment's fit - was another good moment. His model really strutted her stuff like this was an outfit she would have picked out - bravo!

What was going on with Victorya's dress? The top faux-bustier looked strange.

Elisa's tiered look was just B-A-D bad. She's going to bump up against her limitations very soon.

Kit's dress was sweet and modern.

Kevin's outfit should have won the challenge - it fit perfectly and his model came alive when she wore it. His tailoring background makes his creativity come alive . . . and I think he's only scratched the surface in terms of showing us his capabilities.

Rami's dress looked good, but I don't recall what he was working with from the start. Again, his model was energized by the outfit and she looked like she was having the time of her life.

Sweet P's dress looked pretty, but she makes me nervous with all her skittering around the work room. Is she just wearing heels and taking bitsy steps? Hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline, trying to make it work? She needs to do some meditation with Elisa each morning and chill.

And then there's Steven. He of the colorful commentary; if Bravo has any sense, they'll mix it up and keep him as an observer. Or else we'll be left with Christian's trash talk fabulousity.

I'm sorry to see Steven go, but I was starting to suspect he'd be one of those under-the-radar types whom producers thought was worth keeping around a while for his pointed observations and excellent setups for each scene. But all season long, the cameras didn't get that close to his work. With the exception of the challenge where Marion took the fall (and rightly so, for his Pocahontas dirty-from-the-basement ragamuffin getup). Or was I the only one who noticed this?

Chris, you've been given a second life on this show. It's your chance to redeem yourself and burst out of the boundaries you've set for yourself. Clearly, you have the personality, I hope you just relax and tone down the costumey effects and you'll last a while longer.

At this point I'm going to start making my top three predictions (and doing so this early on means I'm sure to have to revise in the coming weeks, but here goes:

Project Runway Season Four Finalist Prediction

1. Kevin
2. Rami
3. A toss-up between Christian and Jillian with Jillian getting the edge since I'm sure producers will want a woman to make it to the finals.

Who do you think will make it to the Final Three?

Previous Project Runway Posts
Addicted to Project Runway? Well, me, too... So read on!

Episode 4: Chris Gets Crossed
Episode 3: Three-Car Pileup
Episode 2: Of Designers and Potatoes
Episode 1: Project Runway Redux

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Favorite Things:
MarieBelle Hot Chocolate

Yes, it really is that luxurious. Apparently the owner was inspired to start her own line of cocoa and chocolates after falling victim to the elixir that is the hot chocolate at Angelina's in Paris.

We should all be so unlucky!

While I like the hot chocolate very much, it's the tin that I am most enamored of. This tin, with its coppery diamond pattern and interplay between brown and sky blue is a work of art - or at least spectacular package design. It beckons you to spoon off the lid and get cooking.

I want keep this tin around forever and ever. I am saving the last little bit of cocoa that I have left because I just don't ever want to open the cabinet and not see it there.

I know, I know, I could plop it on my desk, a spot of honor, as an ode to successful design. Or if I really felt a need to make it a practical addition to my already-crowded desk, I could use it to hold pencils or clips or other miscellany.

But relegating it to the realm of practicality would belittle it, somehow.

There's something about opening the baking-cabinet door and being welcomed by a glimpse of that chocolate brown, copper and blue label that is so uplifting.

If you're looking for a gift for someone who appreciates chocolate, they will love this. I guarantee it. And at only $18, it won't break the bank.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Impact of Throwaway Fashion

All the emphasis on throwaway fashion - by stores like H&M and Forever 21 - has trickled up into so many other areas of retail. To some, this is welcome news... But I hold that time is what you're trading for price.

Which is fine for the few trendy looks that you won't want to wear next year.

And makes sense for teens who are still developing a sense of style.

But what about the rest of us - who know who we are, what we like and what looks good on us?

When your closet's full of throwaway items that lack the quality and longevity of a well-tailored jacket or a good shirt with French seams, shopping - or "replenishing the stock" as I call it - can eat up a considerable amount of time. It's hard to keep up with the churn.

Trying to find quality items that will last? Forget it. It's nearly impossible these days, at a reasonable price point, at least.

Retail has devolved into what I call "the non-value chain" - inexpensive lines have pushed the lack of quality higher up the retail ladder.

Now that Macy's (and even Bloomingdale's) is jam-packed like a fire sale bazaar, even historically quality-oriented stores like Nordstrom just don't seem to have the goods they did five years ago. Although prices have continued to leap apace.

But when you're working as much as Americans do today, dashing from work to home to scarf down your 30-minute meal, squeezing in a workout, and (hopefully!) carving out some friends and family time, shopping takes a backseat out of necessity.

So buying clothes that last can also increase your productivity, since you'll devote less of your free time to shopping.

Don't misunderstand, I don't hate shopping. I hate unsuccessful shopping. And that's what I've been experiencing, lately. And I feel like it's a tremendous waste of time.

Bah, humbug.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Teddie's Apple Cake: A Solid 6
Or, There's a Reason for Tradition

The Apple Cake - actually, Teddie's Apple Cake* - had its fans and its detractors when it came to the tasting.

First a disclaimer: I left out the nuts because I have people who don't like nuts (on principle, not allergy).

My father-in-law declared it delicious, and finished his piece.

My mother-in-law liked the flavor, but thought it was a heavy cake, so she ate about 2/3 of her piece. I agree with her, there. Stirring the concrete-like batter gave me an upper-body workout that I never got with my Mom's recipe.

My husband thought it was greasy, and left at least half his slice. With my father-in-laws' delicious famous latkes in abundance, there was enough oil in the meal - and he'd much rather allocate calories to latkes than to cake. [Disclaimer #2: Later, we discover the poor guy was nursing a 102-degree fever, so who knows what he was really tasting. Ergo, your mileage may vary.]

My take: This is a recipe that tastes like 1973, a simpler day culinarily, when it first appeared in the Times and frankly, when we didn't know any better. Raisins figure into this recipe, too, and I thought that seemed somewhat odd. Although I don't mind raisins at all, these must have made contact with the pan and in the cooking took on that icky-bitter metallic taste that sometimes happens to raisin bread that you leave in the toaster too long.

Overall, it tasted pretty good. It had the right balance of sugar and cinnamon, and enough fruit to keep it chunky and interesting. It was the fruit that distracted you from the fact that the cake's moist crumb came courtesy of 1-1/2 cups of oil.

As for a rating? I'd give it a solid 6, because I'm a tough grader when it comes to cakes. This recipe required no baking skill to make, although it was difficult to extract from the bundt pan I used in lieu of a tube pan (I know, I know). This meant that our cake needed minor surgery when I turned it out onto a plate and found a six-inch hunk of the cake still clinging to the pan, where a trove of apples had allowed it to separate from the bulk of the cake. But after extracting the piece from the pan, I just patted it back onto the rest of the cake. No harm done.

Jewish Apple Cake recipe from my Mom to come in the future, once I unearth it and make it.

*NYT login required

Jewish Apple Cake

Oy, such a dilemma.

After years of using my mother's recipe for Jewish Apple Cake, as a favor to my mother-in-law, today I made the recipe recently featured in the New York Times.

We're off to Hanukkah dinner to give it a taste test. And I will report back to let you know what the verdict is.

If it turns out to be a bust, perhaps I will share my Mom's secret.

In re-reading this, I realized that paragraph 2 makes it sound like my mother-in-law has been suffering through my Mom's recipe for Jewish Apple Cake and asked me to give that up and make the Times version instead. Not true!

Actually, my mother-in-law had noticed the recipe and wanted to try it, or have me make it. IN eating the cake, we realized I've never made my family's recipe for them, despite being married to their sone for 15 years!

In fact, when we were discussing recipes and I mentioned the attributes of my Mom's recipe (which really is delicious; as attendees of countless office parties and family functions will attest), my mother-in-law asked me why I'd never made it for them before!

So now that recipe's on the must-bake list for this holiday season. So many cakes, so little time!

Project Runway: When Life and Reality TV Collide

There's been an issue with my phone lately. The old "hang up when someone answers" is at play.

Only we've recently signed on for caller ID, so we have some chance of seeing whether it's someone we really know or if it's a weirdo being annoying.

Yesterday, the phone rang really late at night. Late for us, and for all the other people who call us. And again they hung up when I answered.

Aha! Check the caller ID, I thought.

And the name that appeared was Robert Best, a name that sounded familiar. But I couldn't place exactly how I knew this guy.

Then yesterday I realized, yes, I do know a Robert Best.

(I also realized I probably need to spend less time watching Bravo.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Project Runway Episode 4: Chris Gets Crossed

There have been some who have compared Chris to Jay from Season One of Project Runway; quirky, rotund and opinionated.

But from the outset I could tell Chris had a more gentle way about him than Jay. Chris' humor was jolly and sweet, rather than edgy. All the pre-season promos made him appear at first glance to be cut from the same cloth as Jay.

But as these episodes wore on, I could see that Jay was shaggy fake fur while Chris was a nubby fleece.

And in the end, easygoing Chris was booted from PR because he was too weak a leader.

When Donna Karan appeared as this week's guest judge, I immediately thought of Chris' team and their neutral color palette, something I recall Donna Karan having done a decade or so ago. But the color palette was the only unifying element, the garments were so disparate and disjointed.

Sweet P finally came into her own, with kudos from Donna Karan and Michael Kors and the rest of the judges for her bubble dress.

And Ricky ... I've felt so much this season that Ricky's been on the edge, ready to fall apart at a moment's notice. And for sure, this week Ricky got an education in dealing with people, both good and bad. I wanted to shout for joy when I saw his satellite reach Planet Elisa! How he applied his experience in modern dance and communicating with people in that creative world to speaking with Elisa in her language, calmly educating her on the basics she needed to get the job done, and getting pretty impressive results from her simple shift dress.

But Victorya? That girl is just grabby and unethical and she will get hers.

Victorya, I do not trust and do not like - she is passive-aggression personified. She took the self-serving stance of not wanting to be leader (so as to avoid the ax if they failed) yet dramatically proclaiming the creative vision was hers so she could be lauded if a miracle happened and they succeeded. Once she gauged the judges comments and saw she was safe, she threw Ricky a bone, crediting him with pinning her dress - which, hello? - completely saved her from disaster. Every judge would have pounced on the flat-front monostrosity of her garment's bodice before Ricky gently made his suggestions.

Loved the way Christian's team interpreted all the outdated trends without looking outdated. Kit, Christian and Jack looked like they worked together easily. Whether it was the team name or the lack of drama over their equal abilities, but their collection worked well, looked good, and personally I thought looked a lot more fashion-forward than Team Jillian's.

Calling Jillian a team leader is inaccurate and here is where I disagree with Nina Garcia: Jillian was Rami's puppet, pure and simple. She fretted and second-guessed and mulled and worried, yet never directly addressed Kevin's slow pace. Kevin, kudos to him, came through in the clutch with gorgeous-looking hot pants.

Regarding how Kevin works, I can completely understand. Sometimes it takes the squeeze of a very tight deadline for your vision to become unclouded. For you to get into a flow state. To pull out all the stops, draw on all your experience, and see your way to the finish line. I've been there; it's as if your creative stores of your brain are saving the best for last, and you have to wring out all the other superfluous stuff to get to those last drops of essence that will make the statement you intend.

But Chris ... I don't know. He seemed to just run out of steam. This is a series of sprints, not a long 5K walk-a-thon. His easygoing pace I think was what made him the least successful of all. It's like he lacked the energy that propels a spectacular garment into being: The cropped jacket was all wrong, like she was wearing a loud slipcover for a doll's couch. Maybe he was so distracted by having to be the leader, by wanting to keep above the fray, that he meandered all around, mentally, and in the end, he missed the mark.

Whatever it was, Chris did not take on the role of leader, didn't make a garment that made sense, and was shown the door by Ms. Klum. I felt badly for him because he seems such a good egg, though.

It's a rough business, this world of fashion.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

This is the Reason Writers Write, and Don't Produce

Alec Baldwin hits the nail on the head when he says the Writers' Guild strikers are terrible negotiators.

I knew there was a reason I liked Alec Baldwin, aside from his ability to make entertainment out of chewing up the scenery and spitting it out into a teensy pile of oaky splinters on 30 Rock.

Actually, what makes 30 Rock great, nay, what inspires Baldwin's prowess in mimicking probably every achingly clueless network head he's ever run across, is, at heart, the writing.

It's the writing that makes great shows. Period.

And writers need to stop thinking about themselves as a commodity, or risk being nickel-and-dimed to death, and start conducting business as purveyors of content whose work has a value far greater than any hourly rate or 4-cents-per-DVD charge.

But as Alec Baldwin points out, writers are terrible negotiators; that's how they get into the writing business.

As kids, they try selling lemonade, but realize they liked penning the sign more than setting prices and selling product.

They put off selling hoagies for their high school marching band trip long enough that the only way to get the trip to Orlando paid for is to pen a very serious note that their parents can post in their coffee room, imploring colleagues to buy a soggy fundraiser sandwich.

Maybe they even failed macroeconomics in college.

They simply don't have the negotiating gene. Or if they do, it's greatly surpassed by their writing and creativity genes.

(The proportions are roughly equivalent to those that Seinfeld, showing George the hefty head of iceberg that represents the amount of the Costanza brain devoted to thinking about sex, compares with the little lettuce scrap that accounts for all other thought activity. It's like that.)

Don't fool yourselves, Network muckity-mucks: the content available for free over the Internet in the form of blogs and YouTube videos doesn't hold a candle to a well-crafted comedy show.

That takes skill in the form of a roomful of talented writers, masterfully led toward a goal by a head writer, who gently coaxes or cajoles or teases or mocks or simply supports their efforts at spinning 22 minutes of golden delight out of straw.

My suggestion is for Networks to give over a substantial portion of revenue to the writers. Yes, revenue. Heck, open your wallets and give the writers whatever they want.

Because no matter how ridiculous you think the writers' demands are, it will still be next to nothing to you. You'll still make your kajillions.

Why give them what they want? Simple.

They will simply never be tough enough negotiators to gouge you, Networks. They're writers. And you need them more desperately than you'll ever know.

Because without the writing, you simply don't have television.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!

And thank God for that. Because without English, who knows where I'd be.

During my second semester as a college freshman, three days a week I had an 8 a.m. statistics class followed by a 9 a.m. macroeconomics class.

The subject matter itself was a struggle for me to grasp; the instructors dry, the material lifeless.

And not being a morning person, the pairing of these two courses back-to-back at the earliest time possible created the perfect storm for failure. Actually it was less a storm and more like a loud, combustible series of auditory explosions - at least when my parents and I received my final grades.

But it also redirected me to a career as a writer, and for those two Fs, I will be forever grateful.

I made up the classes to ultimately boost my final GPA to a respectable level. And in the meantime, I faced the fact that perhaps a career as a financial analyst or accountant was certainly not in the offing.

Aside from the music classes and serious lessons that I'd lived for throughout high school (and I'd firmly decided against the conservatory route), English had always been my strong suit.

An introductory communications class, for all its theory and citation-filled lecturing by the professor, was revelatory. . . and writing for the newspaper became my new diversion. Or ancillary education, as it were.

After transferring to a university in New England, I endured the scoffs of Boston Globe and Herald editors who dissected our leads in front of the whole class.

Who made me think about the kinds of questions each type of story required.

Gave me practical tips, like always carry a pencil when covering a fire.

And drummed into me the importance - and reasoning behind - pyramid style.

And I loved it.

Sure, the hard core newspaper or broadcast newsroom wasn't for me; I realized that early on. But I was armed with skills that would serve me well for the rest of my career, a career that nobody could have predicted thanks to Al Gore's miraculous invention - the Internet.

I owe it all to two Fs . . . and hearing that they had something to say.

Fail Your Way to Success!

I'm intrigued by all kinds of writing, especially books and articles that can help one make a positive impact on the world.

I'm especially intrigued when people attempt to write about something as ephemeral as creativity and what drives it.

There's a great quote in a little book I picked up recently:

"Fail, fail again. Fail better."
- Samuel Beckett

Trying and failing, I'm convinced, can be a key to success. To innovation. To making an impact on the world.

It's all in the way you process the experience of failure. What you learn from it.

It's lessons learned and all that, sure. But it's really the behavioral changes that we make after failing that really serve us well.

We might be tempted to wallow, to spend too much time licking our wounds, healing from the embarrassment of failure.

But by using that experience as fuel to propel oneself forward, armed with this highly personal, highly useful new information gleaned from the failure itself, one can triumph over having faced the challenge and emerged.

There is always something to be gleaned. We just need to pay attention to what it is.

When's the last time you failed spectacularly at something? What did you learn?